Another 20 in 2020 is a must read in the time of COVID-19. I read The Infinite Game in the winter, and its concepts have been ruminating with me for some time now.
In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.
In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.
The more Simon started to understand the difference between finite and infinite games, the more he began to see infinite games all around us. He started to see that many of the struggles that organizations face exist simply because their leaders were playing with a finite mindset in an infinite game. These organizations tend to lag behind in innovation, discretionary effort, morale and ultimately performance.
The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Their people trust each other and their leaders. They have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, while their competitors fall by the wayside. Ultimately, they are the ones who lead the rest of us into the future.
Simon now believes that the ability to adopt an infinite mindset is a prerequisite for any leader who aspires to leave their organization in better shape than they found it.
His Five Steps to Master The Infinite Game
1. Just cause—More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do.
2. Courageous leadership—Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They are willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.
3. Vulnerable team—This means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation.
4. Worthy adversary—In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause.
5. Open playbook—Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. Super important today!
The ideas above are all great concepts, but the ones that stood out to me when I read it were the vulnerable team and the worthy rival discussions.
Vulnerability within teams is often overlooked or not discussed, because it involves feelings and trust and personal limitations, none of which grown men want to talk about with other grown men. I have been using the BRAVING Inventory from Brene Brown’s book DARE TO LEAD to talk about vulnerability with my team over the first quarter of 2020. This strategy was abruptly interrupted with COVID and the closure of our campus for business in late March, but we covered things like boundaries, accountability, integrity and more during team meetings to open the vault on these concepts so they were out there and able to be integrated into daily conversations or performance evals. I am hoping that we can be honest and vulnerable as we come out of this pandemic and see what restructuring happens within our work group.
The other topic was this worthy rivals thing: I immediately thought of my professional network of friends on LinkedIn when I read this chapter. I know several professional coaches and keynote speakers, and you’d think they were all competing against each other. But in fact, they are worthy rivals and feed off each others’ successes, talk among themselves at conferences, and share tips and tricks so each of them can be more successful in their professional careers. They even collaborate on larger projects together. They are competing with themselves, not each other. Everyone wins if they work in this way, and improve each other through this network methodology.
I also see this at the UW-Madison with the Campus Supervisors Network – sharing information and experiences builds all of us up to be the best versions of ourselves. I have been on some online group meetings where we were sharing how managers are getting through the challenges of leading remote workers, and to hear other people’s suggestions is so helpful to get through this new way of working. You also get the support and encouragement from your tribe that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have available, and so are they; we are not functioning at the same rate as BC (Before Covid) so don’t beat yourself up for it, but instead compare notes with your worthy rivals and hopefully improve upon your ability day after day.
Enough from me – hear from Simon himself about the book’s themes here:
Here’s a great Forbes.com article about how to apply the concepts of Sinek’s book in business.
Lastly, for a summary of previous 20 in 2020’s, check out this previous article of mine.
I am curious to hear your thoughts on The Infinite Game and its concepts. Please reply in the comments!